Why 'Kabir Singh' and 'Arjun Reddy' are sexist, toxic

The films normalise and then glorify the abuse of women in the name of obsessive love

Shahid Kapoor’s ‘Kabir Singh’, a remake of the Telugu blockbuster ‘Arjun Reddy’ (2017) starring Vijay Deverakonda,  hit screens last Friday.

Both films, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, trace the self-destructive path of the title characters after they are separated from the girls they love.

‘Kabir Singh’ has run into critical rough weather: it is being described as sexist and misogynistic, and social media is flooded with comments from people outraged by the ‘glorification’ of an abusive medical student and doctor.

Well-known film-critic M K Raghavendra notes that patriarchal and sexist characters are frequently featured in popular cinema. Their behaviour is normalised, he says.

“Following the concept of eternal love, the hero and heroine assume they are meant for each other the moment they meet. The women especially have no element of choice; the idea of discovering love is only accepted in Hollywood. But the question here is the aggression showcased," he elaborates.

‘Arjun Reddy’ didn’t spark the kind of criticism the Hindi remake has, and he attributes that to the cosmopolitan viewership of Hindi cinema. Raghavendra reckons the Hindi film could fare better in the rural areas than in the cities.


Vijay Devarakonda in the Telugu original ‘Arjun
Reddy’. He plays a short-tempered surgeon, who
goes on a self-destructive rampage post break-up with
his girlfriend.

Aasita Bali, academic and film-studies expert, also argues ‘Kabir Singh’ won’t appeal to city audiences.

“Kabir Singh is your typical alpha male, and given our patriarchal society, it would appeal to rural audiences and not so much to urban ones,” she says.

Actor Shahid Kapoor in an interview said artistes shouldn’t be expected to be idealistic.  

“Making a film or choosing a role is entirely an artiste’s choice. But there will be consequences. In Indian cinema, we have certain expectations of our actors and when they go against them, they are rejected,” Aasita says.

Arjun Reddy or Kabir Singh is a character with a lot of scope on the acting front but portraying him as just a wounded and short-tempered but affectionate boy is not acceptable to many who watched the film. The female lead Preeti’s gullibility is annoying, especially to women. All she does is keep mum and boost her man’s ego.

A cult classic?

‘Arjun Reddy’ did well commercially and was lauded as experimental and original. Merchandise on the rebel character is available online even two years after the film’s theatrical release.

The Telugu film is also being made in Tamil under the title of ‘Aditya Varma’, starring Dhruv Vikram, expected to hit screens soon.


The Tamil remake ‘Adithya Varma’, starring
Dhruv Vikram, is also set to release soon.

Why it is not okay

- Film justifies toxic masculinity and validates a disturbing relationship.

- Trying to get intimate with a girl without her consent is not normal behaviour.

- Treating partner like property, and dictating who they can be friends with, is not done.

- Body shaming is disgraceful, particularly for one engaged in medical practice.

Storyline

The lead character (Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh) is an alcoholic but super-efficient surgeon who just can’t manage his temper. He bullies his way through college, and takes a fancy to a shy girl, who gradually accepts his aggressive, threatening ways. He dictates who she should talk to, and does not hesitate to slap her. The hero goes on a self-destructive path after she is forced by her family to marry another man.

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